From the O RO to the BFI

From the O RO to the BFI

Romaster Memphis took a winding road to get to the top of the rope-horse game. 

Head horse Romaster Memphis has held a lot of different jobs in his 14 years. Here, he partnered with Curry Kirchner and heeler Tyson Thompson to win the open roping at the 2023 Bob Feist Invitation. Photo by Andersen CbarC Photos.

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The American Quarter Horse Journal logo

By Holly Clanahan

AQHA often celebrates, and rightfully so, American Quarter Horses that are excelling at second careers, such as racehorses that retire from the track and go on to become stars in barrel racing or dressage. In the case of the multitalented Romaster Memphis, well, we’re not sure how many careers he is on. 

Known as “Twister,” the 14-year-old chestnut gelding’s story started on the AQHA Best Remuda-winning O RO Ranch in Arizona, where he was born and spent the first eight years of his life as a working ranch horse. His most recent chapter ended with him being on the winning team at the 2023 Bob Feist Invitational Team Roping Classic, held April 1 at the Lazy E Arena in Guthrie, Oklahoma. His rider, Curry Kirchner, partnered with heeler Tyson Thompson to take home the $160,000 check. But there were lots of miles in between those milestones. 

“It’s a great AQHA story,” says the horse’s current owner, AQHA Second Vice President Jeff Tebow of Piedmont, Oklahoma. We’ll start at the beginning. O RO Ranch was given the Best Remuda Award in 2022 for its long track record – stretching back 150 years – of breeding gritty ranch horses that could handle the rocky terrain and wild cows that characterize the “ROs.” The ranch covers 257,000 acres sprawled across some of the most rugged, rocky terrain in North America. It takes a rugged horse. 

When Romaster Memphis was born there in 2009, he hailed from one of the ranch’s foundation mare lines. Ranch manager Jed Roark says that his dam, RO Memphis Belle, was sired by Peppy Mania, a ranch stallion whose roots go back to the famed King Ranch. Her bottom side was good, solid RO mares. Although Jed was not at the ROs when Twister was bred (Chad Smith was ranch manager at that time), he knows the bloodlines well. The ranch still has a number of RO Memphis Belle’s offspring and grandsons and granddaughters in the remuda and the broodmare band. “They've got size, and they're cowy, and they're just good minded. They just work in this country,” Jed says. 

And Twister’s sire, Master Bug Too, explains where he gets his speed. He’s a son of Mr Master Bug, a multiple AQHA champion racehorse. Jed says the Master Bug Too offspring that remain on the ranch are big, strong, speedy horses. 

Twister was started under saddle by his namesake, Twister Heller, a longtime colt-starter for the ranch, and he was also ridden by Brother Daniel and Choc Westcott – cowboys who deserve credit for his solid foundation. He was a “camp horse,” used for a multitude of jobs, including prowling the rough Arizona country to check on cattle, packing salt, roping at spring and fall brandings, and whatever else was needed – weaning calves, pulling bulls out of their pastures and catching cattle in the pasture. You name it, Twister did it. 

In 2017, the ranch decided to put the 16-hand gelding in the Legacy Ranch Horse Sale, where the public is given the opportunity to purchase horses carrying the brands of legendary Arizona ranching outfits. Jon Hershberger raised his hand at the auction. Jon’s son, Jason, and grandsons Garrett, Gavin and Wyatt are all good hands, and they had cultivated a family business of purchasing prospects, putting a little training on them and then reselling them. Twister joined the family, but he fit in so well, he wasn’t a resale project. Many different family members rode him, including an inexperienced cousin who learned to rope on him. Wyatt, who has earned two AQHYA gold globes in roping events, seemed to saddle him up the most. 

Again, Twister filled in wherever he was needed. “Whatever you needed to do, we used Twister,” Wyatt says. 

Wyatt Hershberger used the multitalented Romaster Memphis for a wide variety of jobs,
including catching wild cattle in southern Arizona. Photo courtesy of Wyatt Hershberger. 

Wyatt took Twister to jackpot ropings, although he was never the family’s primary rope horse – they had too many up-and-comers in training. He also took him to an Arizona signature event, the Cowpunchers Reunion Rodeo, where he made the short round in team tying, which is an old-school test of a head horse’s skill and training. And Twister went to plenty of college rodeos, although he never backed into the box. 

“I would use him in all three roughstock events” as a pickup horse, Wyatt says. “The bareback riding, the bronc riding, and I’d even rope bulls on him, because he’s a big horse, so he can take it. I was picking up a lot, and it takes a special horse. They’ve got to be tough enough, they’ve got to be broke enough, and some horses don’t have that little extra grit in them, or they’re scared of the broncs. So it’s always hard to find good ones, and he was one of my main ones for a while.” 

Gavin Hershberger was one of many Hershberger family members who enjoyed the dependable "Twister." Photo
courtesy of Wyatt Hershberger. 

Wyatt also used Twister as he day-worked on some of the big ranches in southern Arizona – taking him back to rough, rocky country like he had grown up on. He used him to snub the ex-bucking horses he was starting under saddle. The two of them even roped wild cattle that were plaguing farmers’ alfalfa fields. If there was cowboy stuff to do, Wyatt and Twister did it. 

Fast forward a bit, and Wyatt started working for Jeff, a longtime family friend who is CEO of Heritage Place Sale Co. in Oklahoma City. Wyatt helped with the horse sales there, and last summer, Jeff asked him if he knew of any good head horses for sale. 

“I've got a young Riata Buckle horse,” Jeff says he told Wyatt, “but I just need something a little more solid. I need an older horse I can go compete on.” Jeff competes as a No. 8 and 9 header. One horse came to Wyatt’s mind. 

After talking to Wyatt and his dad, Jason, and looking at photos and videos, Jeff bought Twister sight unseen and had him delivered to Oklahoma. It turned out to be a good decision. As described, Twister was a lot of horse with plenty of gas in his tank, and Jeff was pleased.

Jeff’s Riata Buckle horse was being seasoned by a young man named Curry Kirchner, who had been a professional team roper since 2020 and who helps his dad, Robert, manage a cattle operation about 70 miles northwest of Oklahoma City, not too far from where Jeff lives. “They’re great horsemen,” Jeff says. 

One day, he took Twister to their place to rope a few steers, and Jeff asked Curry if he would mind stepping on board. “I’d like to see what he looks like being roped off,” Jeff told Curry. We’ll let Curry pick up the story from there: 

“I was like, dang, this horse is really good,” the 24-year-old says. “He can fly. And I asked Jeff if he'd ever be interested in selling him. He didn't want to sell him, which I figured he wouldn't, because he's a nice horse.” But Curry’s good head horse had been injured, and he was afoot going into the winter rodeo season. He kept trying out horses, but none of them compared to Twister. He tried again, asking Jeff if he might be willing to lease the horse. 

Jeff told him, “No, I'm not leasing the horse, but you're more than welcome to use him. I know you're in a bind, and you're a good young man. Take care of him like he's yours.” So the two of them hit the rodeo road and made the short round in a few of the biggest venues last winter. Curry figured that with Twister’s big motor, he’d be a great fit for “the Feist,” which calls for ropers to run six steers and requires a horse with a lot of heart. (And Curry, by the way, calls the horse “Memphis,” because there was already a horse named Twister on the Kirchner place.) 

Sure enough, with a time of :45.38 on six head, Curry and Tyson ended the BFI at the top of the pack, beating the other short-round competitors who had many more years of experience, Clint Summers and Cory Petska, Coleman Proctor and Logan Medlin, and Brandon Beers and Daniel Braman.

“Curry always said that he's a BFI horse if there has ever been one, and the rest of it is history,” Jeff says. “Here we are today with Curry winning the BFI on him.” Considering the horse’s rough ranch beginnings and his jack-of-all-trades time with the Hershberger family, Jeff marvels at how one horse has tied all those threads together. “It's amazing what the American Quarter Horse has done for people's lives and the way it brings us all together.”

But none of his past connections are surprised at Twister’s success.

Jed remembered another RO wagon and camp horse that won the No. 13.5 roping at the World Series of Team Roping in Las Vegas. “It doesn’t really surprise me,” he says. “A lot of these horses go on to be really good rope horses.” 

“All those years of hard work makes a great horse,” Wyatt says. “It's not any secret that outside miles are what makes good horses. It is nothing new to him to do something that's a little hard.”

To make it even more special, Twister is also one of those unique horses that can adjust to riders of different levels. Remember that Jeff wanted a head horse he could compete on? Well, he rode Twister in the No. 8 roping at the BFI, just days after the horse had won in the open with Curry. They made the short round, and Jeff jokes that the fact that they didn’t win “certainly was not the horse’s fault.”